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June 18, 2016

Capitol Shorts will not be published next week. Instead, look in your inbox for ASEE's Conference Connection newsletter.



Launching "National Week of Making," the White House gave a shout-out to 10 champions, including engineers Bahiy Watson, far left, and Limor "Ladyada" Fried. A fact sheet says "[c]ommunities are repurposing and enhancing underutilized municipal assets to transform recreation/community centers and library spaces into youth-centered, technology-enabled, maker learning spaces." Mechanical engineer Watson created the 1881 Institute of Technology, which "will partner with the New Orleans Recreation & Development Commission to launch a 6-week summer camp, with 75 teenagers, focused on electronics, robotics, and computer-aided design." MIT-trained Fried "decided to create a company focused on supporting learning electronics for makers of all ages and skill levels. In 2005 she founded (women-owned) Adafruit, which has grown to now employ more than 100 individuals in their 50,000 sq ft. NYC factory."  

$36 MILLION FOR UNIVERSITY NUCLEAR R&D: The Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) awards will "support 49 university-led nuclear energy research and development projects in 24 states. NEUP seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research across the country by providing top science and engineering students and faculty members opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities." An additional $6 million will be shared by 15 universities for research reactor and infrastructure improvements.

MORE MONEY DOESN'T MEAN MORE PUBLICATIONS: The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics reports  "considerable growth" between 1988 and 2011 in funding for academic R&D in science and engineering, and "smaller growth in the number of academic researchers and in the number of academic scientific publications." These trends "do not necessarily indicate diminishing returns for research expenditures." One explanation could be that "research leading to publications may have become more complex and costly." Or, "universities may have focused spending on activities and investments that did not necessarily result in publications. Another possible explanation could be that changes in university culture, specifically toward leadership that thinks increasingly in business terms, have resulted in a growing emphasis on converting research into patents." After 2006, the ratio of academic expenditures to publications "remained more constant." 

EPSCoR WINNERS: Hawai'i, Nebraska, and Vermont have been awarded $20 million each through the National Science Foundation's  Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). "Hawai'i and Vermont are developing innovative approaches to ensure sustainable water supplies in the face of intensive land use and climate change," while "Nebraska will establish a Center for Root and Rhizobiome Innovation to develop tools and technologies for more rapid, precise and predictable improvement of crops to increase production and resilience to climate change."  

STILL ON PIRE: NSF's Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE), begun in 2005, "will promote cooperation among scientists and engineers from all nations, and will fund international collaborative activities through all areas of research supported by NSF." The sixth round encourages interdisciplinary proposals.  PIRE is "working with counterpart funding agencies to lower barriers to international collaboration for U.S scientists, engineers and students, and to encourage jointly funded, bilateral and multilateral projects."


Graphic by Jennifer Pocock. Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NSF)

Click here for a larger, interactive version.


HOUSE DEFENSE SPENDING BILL BECOMES VETO BAIT:  Approved overwhelmingly, the $575.8 billion FY 2017 appropriation drew a White House veto threat "for tapping $15.7 billion in [the overseas contingency operations] account to pay for ships, aircraft, soldiers and other base-budget items not requested by President Barack Obama but favored by the military services," CQ reports. The administration objected to, among other things, a cut of $42 million from its request for Navy R&D funding for the Rapid Prototyping, Experimentation and Demonstration initiative, which it calls "an essential element in the Navy's strategy to employ successful innovation technologies."

GUN DEBATE WEIGHS DOWN APPROPRIATIONS: So reports CQ as the Capitol echoes with post-Orlando proposals from both parties. The coming week will likely see votes in the Senate on gun amendments to the $53.6 billion Commerce Justice Science spending bill, which funds the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Institute of Science and Technology. The Appropriations Committee cleared the measure in April (see its report).

TOO MUCH HARDWARE? While not threatening a veto, an Obama administration policy statement on the Senate CJS bill complains that appropriators are sacrificing R&D to construction and machinery. It faults senators for adding $1 billion above NASA's request for the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule "while underfunding other key NASA programs," including exploration, space technology, aeronautics, science, and space operations. The extra $24 million provided by appropriators for NIST labs "would be better directed to the new research initiatives," the White House says. Likewise, the bill contains $53 million more than requested for the NSF's Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction account, money that should go to "other NSF initiatives." Too little is provided for NSF's move to new headquarters, affecting "the agency's ability to carry out its mission."

HOW OTHERS HANDLE CLIMATE CHANGE: The  Government Accountability Office, noting that "climate risks and weather-related disasters present a financial risk to the federal government," reports on steps taken and lessons learned from  the European Union, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and the United Kingdom. All have "approached enhancing resilience through climate change adaptation by enacting laws and developing longterm plans." 

ENERGY GROUNDBREAKERS: At a House hearing on solar fuels, electricity storange, and advanced materials, CalTech's Nathan Lewis, far left, said artificial photosynthesis—the direct production of fuels from sunlight--is 10 times more efficient than natural photosynthesis. It has "the potential to be a game-changing energy technology, cost-effectively producing fuels that are compatible with our existing infrastructure." Daniel Scherson​ of Case Western Reserve, near left, spoke of challenges in finding "a viable high‐energy‐density energy storage technology." The Energy Subcommittee also heard from Johns Hopkins's Collin Broholm, who talked about quantum materials, and Daniel Hallinan Jr., of Florida A & M - Florida State, whose topic was synchrotron light sources. Reason for the hearing? The Department of Energy "must prioritize basic research over grants for technology that is ready for commercial deployment," said panel Chairman Randy Weber (R-Texas)

CROWDING OUT R&D: Subsidizing "technology that is ready for commercial deployment" is pretty much the whole point of the Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR-STTR) programs, for which Congress sets aside a percentage of federal research budgets. Since FY11, the SBIR program at NSF "has expanded by 5 percent a year, or almost 30 percent overall . . . almost three times as much as the rest of the agency during the same time period," Assistant Director for Engineering Pramod Khargonekar told a House Research and Technology Subcommittee hearing.  While NSF supports permanent reauthorization of SBIR-STTR, it opposes a measure passed by the Small Business Committee that would increase program funding by 40 percent over 6 years for SBIR and 33 percent over 6 years for STTR. Such hikes "would come at the expense" of "existing highly meritorious fundamental research."  


DARTMOUTH BREAKTHROUGH: Women comprise 54 percent of this Ivy League school's 2016 engineering graduates, the Concord Monitor reports. One possible contributing factor: Dartmouth does not break down engineering into specific disciplines - some of which tend to be heavily male. This "lack of distinct engineering majors may help keep women on track through four years of math- and science-heavy classes," and "could help keep women from giving up on engineering." 

A BALM IN GILEAD: Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., has gained national recognition for his role in an effort to create a two-year-to-four-year "seamless pipeline of social mobility" (Politico Magazine) into high-tech and medical fields. But it was his skills as a poet that came through in a video message to the campus, which lost seven students in last weekend's Pulse nightclub massacre. As Inside Higher Ed reports, he encouraged students to remember that there are “many kinds of victims,” including the family members and friends of those who died, and people who “feel an affinity” because they are gay or Latino and “may be feeling vulnerable.” He also urged them to “make sure we don’t exclude those who may feel at risk for other reasons,” specifically Muslim students and staff. “Be sure to embrace them, too."


INTERSECTIONS: The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative has awarded 11 grants of up to $100,000 "to support interdisciplinary projects related to art and science, engineering, and medicine frontier collaborations." Globe-spanning projects range from Gulf of Mexico biodiversity to "integrated sensor analysis of biome/microbiome systems."

See also: Quality in the Undergraduate Experience: What Is It? How Is It Measured? Who Decides?


STAYING POWER: ASEE has done extensive work on retention and time-to-graduation rates over the previous several years. A good distillation was recently done by consultant Cindy Veenstra, left. "The study of graduation rates is multivariate and complex; the colleges’ cultures, admission policies and student support/engagement activities all contribute to the variation. An engineering college with a 90% first year retention of its freshmen can expect a 5-year graduation rate of 72% while an engineering college with a 75% first year retention can expect a 47% graduation rate." See the full content.  

'ENGINEERING-ENHANCED' LIBERAL EDUCATION: ASEE, with financial support from the Teagle Foundation and expert guidance by leading education consultant Sheila Tobias, has launched a website highlighting case studies that examine the benefits of greater integration between the liberal arts and engineering. Find out more.


The full Conference program is now online and searchable in a variety of ways. Check it out and start to build your schedule. 

Engineering & Engineering Technology Chairs Conclave

Join us at the ASEE Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA on June 26, 2016 for the inaugural Chairs Conclave, an exclusive forum for Engineering and Engineering Technology Chairs to exchange ideas, share experiences, talk through challenges, and build working relationships. This full day event, designed by Chairs, for Chairs, includes presentations on relevant topics including financial development and managing external connections, and facilitated opportunities for group discussion and brainstorming.  Register today – space is limited! Learn more and view the full agenda.

eGFI Summer Reading: Is your school hosting an engineering camp, bridge program, or professional development session for K-12 teachers this summer? Jump-start the learning with eGFI (Engineering, Go For It), ASEE's award-winning magazine for middle and high school students. Filled with engaging features, gorgeous graphics, and useful information about engineering colleges and careers, eGFI aims to get teens fired up about engineering. To purchase copies, go to http://store.asee.org/  For bulk purchases or other inquiries, contact eGFI@asee.org or call 202-331-3500.